Working remotely is in the NEO DNA, since day one. Many of you out there might find this challenging, and most have been forced to work remotely during the Covid-19 Pandemic. At NEO, we chose to be remote first, and that pushes us to truly cherish the moments when we get together.
Communication, efficient workflow processes, ideation and isolation can all factor in as challenging aspects of remote working; not to mention the time difference. However, at NEO, we work from the US, Spain, Colombia, Scotland, Italy and Uruguay, so there's always someone in a handy time zone for quick answers and an everlasting support, with healthy boundaries in place.
While we think we have got our systems pretty much down and running smoothly, there is one thing that we had to attend to. As NEO grew in the last couple of years, we had new team members who had never actually met in person. Say what you will about remote working, but there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction now and again to really build a sense of community and shared purpose.
So, last week, the NEO team met in Barcelona. Here's what happened.
Meeting some of our clients in person in Barcelona was such a joy. To get to know the people and personalities behind the name and the professionalism is just something vital for strong and enduring relationships. We have come to know some of the key people we work with very well through working remotely, so to finally meet in person was worth every bit of effort in making this trip happen.
We were able to visit the campuses, see some of the new developments our clients are working on, and meet some of their learners. There is something about connecting yourself with the physical space, that just cannot be done online. When we are building new paid media campaigns, or writing copy, to be able to visualise the learning spaces we represent and the people who populate them just helps enormously.
Internally as a team, we were also able to work all together for the first time in person, building on the strong relationships and communication styles that have been embedded in team NEO since its inception. The team may well be growing each and every year, but the spirit and soul of what NEO is, remains consistent.
All of the stuff above is really enhanced by meeting in person, but living and eating together is a bonding experience you just don't get remotely. Beneath the team dynamics we had come to know by working online, there were sub dynamics we knew nothing about.
At the dinner table, it became clear that sharing food was the way we were going to eat, but that Mark, Sara and Ashley were ready with forks in hand when it arrived; determined to mark their territory. Sole would not even look at mains before heading to the desserts page, and Alejandra would jump straight to selecting a good wine to accompany the full culinary experience.
To have hours and hours to talk together reveals a lot. Sara (who is Polish), is more Colombian than Alejandra or Ashley (who are Colombian). Sole's take on life is consistently hilarious, and she is one of a kind. Ashley has a heart of gold, and Mark makes terrible jokes, then laughs at them himself. Alejandra, who started all of this, refers to the team as her "family" and she's right.
Eating and working together itself is team building, but sometimes we need to open things up a bit. Towards the end of the week we had a "real talk" session over breakfast where we discussed questions such as what made us passionate, and where we felt we could contribute. This lead in to deeper discussions of our own personal stories, our vulnerabilities, and the gratitude we had for each other. We did not have to build rafts on the river or drive 4x4 cars in the forest or whatever else comes to mind in these team building sessions. Simply sitting down and making space for each other was enough.
Team building sessions are not always helpful. Sometimes, in our experience, they can miss the mark and try too hard. With our team, it felt easy. Sara joined the team a mere two weeks ago, and both Mark and Ashley in the last year, but it felt light.
The load lightened, we then tried an escape room challenge, which genuinely revealed a lot about how we interact together. Sole and Ashley quickly revealed strengths in tasks related to numbers and systems, so Sara and Mark were able to step back and move other tasks forward, or to make suggestions on strategy, while Alejandra was facilitating the whole activity. No yelling was heard, and the collaborative experience was fully on point.
We are back home again, and even "home" can be a fluid concept for some of our team who move around from place to place, but the core is stronger now. With just a week to touch base and connect, make space to learn about each other, we feel stronger and ready to work remotely again.
We decided that the "real talk" session had to become a thing, and every two weeks we will meet online to hold that space open to listen and share. We also talked so much about the things we had all studied and learned, that we are implementing a bi-weekly lifelong learning session to share new insights with each other.
Wherever the road ahead leads, we know that the NEO team is strong.